Mitty, Thomas and Frozen

By Tom Von Malder | Apr 25, 2014
Photo by: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Ben Stiller stars in, and directs “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Owls Head — The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 114 min.). Ben Stiller, who also directs, plays the title character in this expansion of the James Thurber short story. Here, Walter works for Life magazine, as the negative (as in photographs) asset manager, but the print version of the magazine is being shut down in favor of just an online version. Walter has been the closest to elusive, prize-winning photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), whose negative for the final print cover has gone missing.

Walter is a dreamer; more than that, he actually enters fugue states in which he either becomes an action hero -- such as the rescue of the dog form the soon-to-be-destroyed building scene that makes up one of the film’s trailers -- or a contented man in love. In real life, though, he is too shy and reserved to act on any of his impulses, until he becomes determined to track down that lost negative, an action that has him travel to Norway, Iceland and Afghanistan. Suddenly, Walter is living out scenarios -- such as fighting a shark and running from a volcanic eruption -- that rival his fantasies. It is during this late sequences in the film that some beautiful cinematography comes into play. Kudos to director of photography Stuart Dryburgh.

When we first see Walter, he is in his very orderly apartment hesitating to send a wink to co-worker Cheryl Mel Hoff’s (Kristen Wiig) online dating profile. (An ongoing joke has a worker from the online dating company continuing to call Walter and try to make Walter update his profile so it is more interesting.) They will eventually get to talking in real life, and Walter shows Cheryl’s son some neat skateboard tricks -- which Cheryl misses because she is on the phone to her ex, but which set up a wonderful later scene. Shirley MacLaine plays Walter’s mother, and Adam Scott is the head of the transition team. He is a jerk and seems to have a really fake beard.

Exclusive to Blu-ray are five deleted scenes (7:30) that include three more fantasy segments; two extended scenes; two alternate scenes; six brief behind-the-scenes featurettes (three more are on both versions); and a music video by Jose Gonzalez. Both versions also include a photograph gallery. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Ride Along (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 100 min.). This is essentially your odd couple in a police car movie (see “Beverly Hills Cop” for the template), with the connection here between the two men is that wanna-be policeman Ben Barber (comedian Kevin Hart) wants to marry detective James Peyton’s (Ice Cube) sister (Tika Sumpter as Angela Payton). The two men have a past of sorts; apparently Ben caused James to be burned in a barbecue incident.

Currently, fast-talking Ben is a security guard at a high school, but he has just been accepted into the Atlanta police academy. James is a veteran detective with a solid track record, but also an obsession in catching never-seen arms dealer Omar. Lt. Brooks (Bruce McGill) tries to dampen that obsession so much that it leads one to suspect he might be dirty. James has the idea of taking Ben on a day-long ride along to discourage Ben from wanting to be a policeman, and possibly into breaking up with his sister. He asks dispatch to give him all the annoying calls and even sets up an encounter with a berserk, greased-up man in a market.

In general, I did not find that the comedy elements worked -- Ice Cube certainly has the stone-faced straight man thing down pat; see his work in the “Are We There Yet?” films -- but there were a couple of laughs. What I enjoyed more were the action sequences, including the opening sting that breaks down into a firefight and a car chase, all during the opening credits. Later on, the best sequence is when Ben pretends to be the mysterious Omar in order to face down Omar’s minions and get James out of deadly trouble. I won’t spoil the fun of who really plays Omar, but it is obvious if you look closely at the opening credits. The film is directed by Tim Story, who previously worked with Ice Cube on “Barbershop.”

Blu-ray exclusives include an alternate ending; six deleted scenes (8:23), including one involving Omar that I actually had been expecting to appear in the film); an alternate take; a look at how the two leads worked together; behind-the-scenes exchanges between the stars and their stunt doubles over the fight sequence; some b-roll, dailies and alternate takes; and the making of the big explosion. Both versions include audio commentary by director Story; a gag reel; a backstage visit to the set; and a look at the role the city of Atlanta played in the film. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Odd Thomas (RLJ/Image, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 96 min.).
Odd Thomas is the name of a character who is able to see dead people and help solve their violent deaths in a series of novels by best-selling author Dean Koontz. The other talent Odd has is the ability to see bodach demons, which are silvery and invisible to most; the bodachs gather when a tragedy is about to occur, and they currently are all over the small California town of Pico Mundo. Playing the title role is Anton Yelchin (he plays navigator Pavel Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise) and the script is by director Stephen Sommers (the “Mummy” trilogy). An independently-made film, the release was held up for several years due to financial problems, but the resulting film looks very good for a supernatural mystery that is heavy on special effects.

Odd actually has an ally in the local sheriff (Wllem Dafoe as Wyatt Porter, for once in a non-threatening role). Porter, while not wanting to exactly know how he does it, appreciates Odd’s ability to track down criminals and he helps Odd with cover stories and getting him out of trouble as needed. The other, most important person in Odd’s world is his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin), who works at an ice cream parlor in the mall. The two have a nice bantering vibe going, sort of a contemporary, younger version of Nick and Nora Charles from “The Thin Man” series.

The film’s main events are triggered when an unfamiliar customer comes into the café where Odd works as a short-order cook with lots of impressive flip moves. Along with the customer, who Odd dubs “Fungus Bob” (played by Shuler Hensley, who played the Monster in the Broadway musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”), comes more bodachs than Odd has ever seen in one place. (A bodach, from the Scottish Gaelic, is a mythical spirit or creature, like the bogeyman.) Odd decides to investigate “Fungus Bob” and learns his disgusting cabin actually has a doorway to hell. Because this is basically a mystery, director Sommers throws out a lot of red herrings. There are no extras, but the version I have does have a lenticular cover that shows Odd surrounded by bodachs; usually these types of covers are used for 3D films. Grade: film 3 stars

Frozen (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 102 min.).
Disney Animation returns to the top of the heap with the wonderful “Frozen,” which has topped the home video charts for four of the last five weeks, including the most recent one. The film, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” that actually began 70 years ago, but was abandoned for decades, has some innovative animation (the ice magic), a lot of heart, a spunky heroine (Kristen Bell of “Veronica Mars” voicing Anna), a great sidekick (talking snowman Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad) and some wonderful songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Let It Go” won the Oscar for Best Song, while the film took the statuette for Best Animated Feature).

Anna and her older sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel of Broadway’s “Rent,” “Wicked” and “If/Then”) are both princesses in the Kingdom of Arendelle. In an early song, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” we see the two grow up, but Elsa is shut away inside the castle and the castle’s gates are shut because she has magical powers that involve the ability to create and manipulate ice, and one early incident playing with Anna nearly led to Anna’s death. Years later, the King and Queen are lost at sea. After another jump in time, it is Elsa’s coronation day and the castle gates are finally open. During the festivities, Anna both falls in love with Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and accidentally pulls off one of Elsa’s gloves, after Elsa forbids their marriage. Glove off, Elsa’s magic goes out of control, freezing the kingdom, as she escapes to the mountains. Anna is determined to find her sister and help her. Along the way, she encounters ice block seller Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, who like Menzel has had a recurring role on “Glee” and is a Broadway veteran) and his reindeer Sven. Kristoff is talked into helping her; after all, who would want to buy ice in a frozen kingdom. There is adventure with a wolf attack and the huge snow creature Elsa creates, but also fun, as in the snowman’s summer song.

The only place where this release disappoints is with the meager extras, which total about a half hour. There is a cute making-of (3:18) which is all sung; a look at the long, complicated path to get the film made (7:28); four unfinished deleted scenes (6:51) with introductions by directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; four different versions of the end credits song, including Spanish, Malaysian and Italian versions, as well as Demi Lovato’s; and the Mickey Mouse animated short, “Get a Horse!” Grade: film 4 stars; extras 2 stars

Pirate Fairy (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, G, 78 min.).
This is a delightful addition to the Disney Animation direct-to-video films that are set in the world of Peter Pan and Never Land, specifically the faeries of Pixie Hollow. Zarina (voiced by Christina Hendricks) is a  pixie dust-keeping fairy with an overly inquisitive mind. When her turn comes to work with the blue pixie dust (used to generate much more of the regular pixie dust, which is what enables the faeries to fly), she takes some home to experiment with, and creates orange pixie dust (it can bend light), purple pixie dust (it creates wind) and pink pixie dust (it quickens growth). The latter leads to a disaster and Zarina is fired. However, she returns a year later during a festival and steals all the blue pixie dust. It turns out that Zarina has become captain of a pirate ship -- cabin boy James (Tom Hiddleston) is destined to become Captain Hook -- by promising to make the ship fly so the pirates can plunder anywhere on Earth. The song “The Frigate That Flies” explains their plans.

Tinker Bell (voiced by Mae Whitman) and five of her fellow faeries go after Zarina to recover the blue pixie dust, and have quite the action adventure. The faeries have to learn to work together because one of Zarina’s spells has caused them to swap abilities. The pirate band is both dangerous and fun, and Hiddleston steals the film as James. There are a few extras, including a 4:45 look at the legacy of Never Land; four deleted scenes (7 min.); two animated shorts; a child-friendly look at real crocodiles; and two sing-along songs. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Fargo (1996, MGM/Fox Blu-ray disc, R, 98 min.).
With the premiere this month of the excellent “Fargo” TV show, using the same setting but different characters and story, the original Joel and Ethan Coen film gets a remastered Blu-ray release. The original story has things go awry for small-time Minnesota car salesman Jerry Landward (William H. Macy), after he hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can collect the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Trying to solve the case -- and watch out for the wood chipper -- is very pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), after a state trooper and two bystanders are shot. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and won two: McDormand as Best Actress and the Coens for Best Original Screenplay. The other nominations were for Supporting Actor (Macy), Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing and Best Picture. This edition includes audio commentary by director of photography Roger A. Deakins and a trivia track, as well as a gallery of still photos, a featurette on Minnesota Nice and an article from American Cinematographer. All of the extras have been on previously-released editions. Grade: film 4.25 stars; extras 3.25 stars

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